SOUTH PHILLY: St. Rita Rescue Rose In Full Bloom

Filed under: Faith & Values,Featured News,South Philadelphia,South Philly |

by Maria Merlino
I remember when I was in kindergarten at Jenks School, a long time ago, before color TV.

Mrs. Sherr would take us to Marconi Park. At the time, the playground had monkey bars and a sandbox. We thought it was a lot of fun to bury the teacher’s purse in the sand. She would say “Oh! Where is my pocketbook?” and we would look around and finally a kid would dig it up and she would open it and sand would fall out everywhere.

St. Rita's rescue rose in full bloom. Photo by Maria Merlino

St. Rita’s rescue rose in full bloom. Photo by Maria Merlino

I realize now that it was a decoy purse because there were never any contents in it. But it was a lot of fun! It was also a simpler time.

Walking back to school at 13th & Porter Streets, we had to pass by an old house with a beautiful rosebush outside. Our outings were in May and that’s when the roses were in bloom, pink ones with a perfume scent. The roses did not want to get picked because the stems came with some mighty thorns and would leave you bloody if you tried.

Now fast forward to 2004. I’ve been living in the neighborhood for a few years. The old house has been abandoned but the roses bloomed every year and I would visit them when I saw them. They are my equivalent to Proust’s madeleines.

I was horrified one afternoon when I saw a contractor working on the outside of the house and breaking up the concrete. I just knew that rosebush didn’t stand a chance, so in the middle of the night I grabbed my Cutco shears and took a few cuttings. I had absolutely no experience with propagating roses, but I remember my grandmother put a cut cane in the dirt under a Mason jar and a plant grew from that.

That’s just what I did. And the next spring, I was jumping for joy when I saw one long cane sprouting out of the soil. And there were two buds on it! I was totally relieved because the contractor had indeed pulled up the original bush and cemented over it. I had rescued the rose. It still lived in the same neighborhood, only now I was its caretaker.

It’s been 10 years and now I get hundreds of buds and blooms. The thorns are still stiffly pointed and protective. Every year on May 22, the first rose blooms. May 22 is also the feast day of St. Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of impossible causes, sickness, wounds, marital problems, abuse and mothers.
Rita was a medieval woman whose husband had a violent death and later buried her sons who died of dysentery. She entered the Augustine convent and wished to suffer in union with Jesus. It was in a profound experience of spiritual intimacy that a thorn from his crown penetrated her forehead. The wound it caused remained open and visible until the day she died. Several months before her death, she was bedridden. Her cousin from Roccaporena, Italy visited and asked if she could do something for her. Rita at first declined, but then made a simple request to have a rose from the garden of her family home brought to her.

However, it was January, in the dead of winter in the hills of Umbria. This is impossible thought her relative! But upon her return home, the relative passed Rita’s family garden and found to her amazement a single fresh rose in the snow-covered garden on an otherwise unfruitful bush. St. Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby. I like to think that my rescued roses are tribute to St. Rita and every time I see them, I know that with faith, nothing is impossible.

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